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Honoring our Veterans

Bedford Rotary Club hosts
special day for local veterans

By Don Ward
Editor

BEDFORD, Ky. – (October 2002) Three days before 9/11, members of the Bedford Rotary Club did what only seemed natural – they honored Trimble County’s World War II veterans. They also presented high school diplomas to those who did not graduate because they were serving overseas.
About 60 people, including 30 veterans and their families, were treated to the free World War II Veterans’ Appreciation Dinner at the Trimble County Senior Center at the Trimble County Park that Sunday afternoon, Sept. 8. Geraldine Kidwell catered the event, and Rotarians scurried about serving iced tea and coffee to their guests.

Trimble County veterans

Trimble County World War II veterans
who received belated high school diplomas

There was plenty of socializing and jokes about getting older and hand shakes between old friends. Violet Jennings of the Trimble County Historical Society spoke and urged the group to record their oral histories of their war experiences.
Guest speaker Col. Ronald D. Ray, USMC-Ret., a lawyer from Crestwood, Ky., later addressed the group. He paid respect for what the veterans had sacrificed during their service during the war and voiced his dismay at the lack of understanding of that sacrifice among today’s youth.
Ray is a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran who earned two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He later served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration and was appointed by President George H. Bush to serve on the American Battle Monuments Commission from 1990-1994. He also served on the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces. From 1990-1994, he served as Military Historian and Deputy Director of Field Operations for the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C.
In his remarks, Ray lamented the fact that only 30 percent of today’s Congressmen are veterans, compared to more than 70 percent as recently as 1975. “That’s a dangerous thing, particularly in view of events of recent years,” Ray said. “We need people with cool, calm temperament to make the right decisions.”
Ray also noted that today’s mass media and the school rooms of America, in his view, “are not passing on the ideals of what you stand for.” He cited the recent, popular movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” as missing the mark. “Those guys were whiners and complainers and didn’t accept their leadership. I don’t think (movie director) Steven Spielberg got it right, and you veterans need to tell your stories and set the record straight.”
Everything seemed to be going as planned. But as the evening progressed, the Rotarians soon realized they had created a more special evening than even they had imagined.
The first sign appeared even before the first veteran was called to the podium to receive his diploma. Fred Gross, a publicist for the school board, asked Rotary president Jim Hurst if he could say a few words in honor of the veterans. Hurst agreed.
Gross told the audience that he wanted to thank the veterans for their part in defeating Nazi Germany and freeing Europe, especially his family and his fellow Jews.
“I am a Jew from Belgium, and my family and I narrowly escaped through Switzerland to freedom,” Gross said. “At one point we were nearly captured. It is because of your sacrifice that I am standing here before you today, and I thank you.”
Gross left the podium wiping away tears. Over the next several minutes, others shed tears of joy and pride as each veteran’s name was called. Each one rose and slowly made his way up to receive an honorary diploma from Trimble County Board of Education Superintendent Garry Jackson.
“I can think of no better education than in serving your country,” Jackson told the group.
This past spring, the Kentucky Board of Education announced a campaign to identify, locate and award all World War II veterans their diplomas as part of a program to recognize their sacrifices, Jackson explained.
The first Trimble County veteran called that day, Chester Calvert, rolled his wheelchair through the maze of tables to get to the podium. When he returned to his table, he was so busy admiring the diploma that Gross had to interrupt him take his photo.
Keith Harmon was second on the list. He immediately pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped away tears all the way to the podium and back, pausing long enough for a quick snapshot by his daughter, Mary.
“I thought it was outstanding and real touching,” Harmon said. “The whole idea of getting all of us together and having Col. Ray speak on behalf of us was really something.”
One by one, the others were called and presented their diplomas – Cleston Rowlett, Claude Jones, David Spurr, Louis Luckett, Hurcel Harmon, Charlie Persell, Roy Cable, Elmer Quire and Charles Pettit.
By the time Harold Rowlett, the only veteran who saw action at Normandy, arrived at the podium, the place was awash in patriotic pride. And the tears kept flowing.
Rowlett, 80, was drafted in the U.S. Army in 1942 at age 20 and sent to England in preparation for the Normandy invasion. He landed there on the 10th day of the June 1944 assault. Three weeks later, his unit reached the city of Normandy, and then it was on to Brussels, Belgium.
Rowlett was later shot in the leg in a battle at Achen, West Germany. He spent three months in a hospital in England before being flown to Memphis, Tenn., where he spent 17 months recovering. He was released from the Army in July 1946 and received a Purple Heart for his sacrifice. He returned home to farm, married, raised two daughters and worked in a factory until his retirement.
Rowlett said his four best friends from the war have all since died. He doesn’t talk about his experiences much, even with his family or closest friends.
The ceremony paused as Rowlett, his wife, Alice, and daughters, Debbie and Sheila, posed for a picture at the podium. Rowlett smiled while clinging to his high school diploma, his war medals dangling from around his neck.
In response to receiving his diploma, Rowlett, who would have otherwise graduated in 1938, said, “I’d never given it much thought. But when they brought it up, I feel like we all deserved it. I waited 80 years.”

• Other Trimble County World War II veterans who either attended or were invited to the event:
Louis Alexander, Jim Black, Raymond Boldery, Roger Bradley, R.T. Bray Jr., Robert Brewer, Orville Buchanan, Paul Andrew Burrows, Howard “Buck” Callis, Jack Callis, James Carder, Dr. Carl Cooper, Verda Crafton, Vernon Craig, Hubert Davis, Glen Fisher, Jim Ginn, Wilbur Ginn, Quenton Harmon, Maurice Hoffman, Jim Johnson, John Jones, Russell Kelly, Douglas Kendall, George Logan, George Melvin, Ollie Melvin, Dick McDowell, Carroll Morgan, Clifton Morgan, Randell Morgan, LeRoy Munier, Charlie Richmond, Coleman Sibley, Kenny Staples and Robert Tribble. (Note: List may not include those added the day of the event.)

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